Indian fishermen, released from Pakistan jails on Monday, said that merely a day and a half spent with the volunteers of Edhi Foundation on the way from Karachi to Wagah helped them forget years of agonizing and strenuous captivity.
“Despite bitterness in the relations between India and Pakistan, we help Indian fishermen as they are innocent workers and not criminals. They had set out for fishing in high seas to arrange two square meals for their family,” managing trustee of Edhi Foundation and son of the late humanitarian Abdul Sattar Edhi, Faisal Edhi, told TOI over the phone from Karachi on Tuesday.
He said during a short period their volunteers did their best to make the hapless fishermen forget the hard times they spent in jail.
Faisal’s son Saad Edhi received 77 Indian fishermen and an individual from Bihar at the Karachi Cantonment railway station on July 9 after their release from the city’s Landhi Jail on completion of their prison sentences and verification of their identities by Indian authorities.
Pakistan’s maritime security agency had detained the fishermen in May 2016 for trespassing into Pakistan’s territorial waters.
After receiving them from Karachi jail authorities, the Edhi Foundation gave each released fisherman Rs 5,000 in Pakistani currency for spending money on their journey from Karachi to Lahore and on Wagah border for their repatriation to India.
“We booked a full bogey for the Indian fishermen since there were no tickets available for the required date,” said Faisal Edhi.
The Foundation also presented the released fishermen with clothes and toys for their children and provided buses to take them from the Lahore railway station to Wagah border.
Pakistan handed over the 78 prisoners to the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) at a joint check post at Attari/Wagah border. They walked across the land transit route using Emergency Travel Certificates issued by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad.
“I may forget the time spent in jail but not the love and affection shown by Edhi Foundation volunteers,” Karsan, one of the freed Indian fishermen, told TOI before boarding a train on Tuesday. They didn’t know us and yet they gave all of us Rs 5,000 each, along with gifts. It’s their generosity,” he said.
Another Indian prisoner Kanji said for a minute they were scared after being handed over to some unknown persons but were rather in for a surprise when they were given eatables, cash and gifts. “I wish government of both the nations would behave like the volunteers of Edhi Foundation.”
“These men are not criminals, they are hard workers,” said Faisal Edhi. “It is shame to put them behind bars for all these years for accidentally trespassing the territorial waters.”
Expressing concern about the confiscated items like boats and fishing nets of fishermen by both India and Pakistan, he appealed to both nations to immediately return them to their owners. “A boat and fishing net costs fortune. No government has right to seize these,” he said.
Each boat costs between Rs 3 to 10 lakh, often purchased through loans. Without their boats, the released fishermen have no means of earning a livelihood.
Naseem Siddiqui, an official of the provincial home department of Sindh, told AFP that 298 Indian fishermen still in prison in Pakistan will be released after the “completion of the verification of their nationalities by India”.
— Times News Network, 12 July 2017
p.s. See related report from 2010. What has changed?
Prisoners of Poor Policies: India, Pakistan – Fishermen… Arrest, release, repeat